By Patrick Hruby
Page 2

News Item: A national study of public bathroom use by the American Microbiology Society and the Soap and Detergent Association found that one-quarter of men exit without washing their hands -- compared to only 10 percent of women -- and that the worst hygiene came at Atlanta's Turner Field, where 37 percent of men departed sans scrubbing.

I know what you're thinking.

Yuck.

Gross.

Note to self: No shaking hands with Ted Turner.

Good points, all. But hold up. Put away the surgical gloves. Hear me out.

Don't group Braves backers with cockroaches and plague-infested wharf rats just yet.

As much as I detest Atlanta supporters -- can't sell out playoff games, the annoying appropriation of Florida State's tomahawk chop -- I've gotta stick up for Turner Field's great unwashed masses. Not to mention sink-adverse male sports fans in general.

After all, the 37 percent figure seems kinda low.

Tailgaters
AP
Once thousands of tailgaters descend on the stadium bathrooms, things get messy.

Look, I don't mean to impugn the integrity of a hygiene report commissioned by something called the Soap and Detergent Association. Far from it.

After all, this is nothing like Halliburton's reporting that Americans don't use enough gasoline. Nor does it compare to McDonald's releasing a study detailing the nation's tragic deficiencies in dietary fat and sodium.

Nope, this hygiene report is undoubtedly on the up and up, free of a hidden agenda. Much like the Fox News Channel.

Still, what bothers me is the study's finger-wagging implication: Sports fans ought to wash their hands more. Here are the numbers to prove it.

"Although many Americans are beginning to recognize the importance of washing their hands, we still need to reach many others," said AMS secretary Judy Daly, a microbiologist at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City.

Oh, really?

Au contraire.

Well-intentioned or otherwise, the hygiene report smacks of misguided, namby-pamby, mommy-knows-best paternalism. At best.

At worst, it reflects a clear and obvious hatred of freedom. And probably puppies, too.

To wit: the report observed bathroom users at Turner Field, Chicago's Museum of Science and Shedd Aquarium, New York's Grand Central and Penn Stations and San Francisco's Ferry Terminal Market.

Left out of the study? Tora Bora. Hmmm. As if Osama and Co. are avid hand-washers. Don't they deserve a little bad publicity of their own? Fishy stuff. And what about those long beards? Those can't be easy to keep lice-free.

Ooops. I digress. Back to the bathroom report. As is the case with atomic bombs, the underlying theory -- more washing, less spreading of germs -- is sound. But the practical application leaves something to be desired.

To put things another way: Have any of these scientists actually used a stadium men's bathroom?

Let's start with the need to wash. The overrated need to wash.

According to microbiologists, cold and flu viruses are often transmitted by touch -- for instance, shaking hands with an infected person who has just covered up a sneeze. Because viruses can survive for as long as 20 minutes on hard, dry surfaces like door and toilet handles, public restrooms are high-risk areas. Failing to scrub becomes foolhardly.

Unless, of course, you don't touch anything.

Thankfully, stadiums make this easy to do. Doors usually are propped open. Newer arenas feature hands-free, infrared flushing devices; in older ballparks, the timeless foot-to-handle move works just fine. Outside the stall, urinals make flushing a quaint but unnecessary luxury, while trough situations -- the less said of those, the better -- rule it out entirely.

In and out like a washroom ninja, never moving your hands more than 10 inches from your waist? I've done it myself. Entirely possible.

Desirable, too, considering the smell.

Rule of unwashed thumb: the less time spent in arena bathrooms, the better. Especially after the third quarter, unless you fancy the eau de soggy lawn fertilizer.

Beyond repugnant odors, there's the sticky-slick splatter on the floor (please, God, let that be urine). The kid who slows the line because he's too scared to pee. The loaded dude who could set off a breathalyzer from across the room … yet is blithely content to exhale in your face.

Then there's the sink itself.

Jorge Posada & Mariano Rivera
AP
Mariano doesn't mind shaking Jorge's hand -- and he knows what Jorge does.

Nietzsche once said that when the truth is shallow, the enlightened man dislikes wading into its waters. Ditto for the shallow waters of a stadium sink. Clogged and wet, loaded with loogies, surrounded by indeterminate bits of towel and tissue, they're the last place a faint-of-heart, hygiene-conscious individual wants to stick his hands, elbows or any other bodily appendage.

Honestly, it wouldn't be surprising if Michael Douglas' head emerged from the murky, backed-up water -- eyes crazed, hair slicked back like Gordon Gekko.

The horror. Oh, the horror.

As for soap dispensers? Forget it. Hybrid cars are refilled more often. Perhaps the fearless Soap and Detergent Association can crack down on that. Or maybe they can do something about the paper towels, which always seem to have entered the Federal Witness Protection Program.

Just once, I'd like to dry my hands without: (a) missing the play of the game while grappling with an underpowered air dryer; (b) using my pockets; (c) staring wistfully at the crumpled paper towels overflowing from the trash, a single, noble tear running down my cheek.

Also remember that while oft-touched bathroom objects -- like, say, a faucet handle -- harbor germs and disease, urine produced by a healthy person is both sterile and nontoxic. This isn't "Alien"; a few errant drops aren't going to melt through the floor. Or your fingers.

To the contrary, baseball stars Moises Alou and Jorge Posada intentionally whiz on their own hands. The reason? Better batting grips. According to Posada, urine "keeps your hands from getting callused and cracking."

Hmmm. Seen any recent studies sponsored by the American Academy of Dermatology and the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, decrying an epidemic of cracked, callused hands?

Me neither. Now we know why.

As for the AMS/SDA's hand-wringing over hand-washing, it's much ado about very little. Do icky male sports fans neglect to wash up? No doubt. Thing is, we have some good reasons. And not just in Atlanta.

Besides, if either organization really wanted to help fans out, they'd study solutions to more pressing stadium problems. Like overcrowded parking lots. Catching one of those damn C02-propelled T-shirts. Or paying nine bucks for a beer that sends you to the bathroom, an enlightened man determined to avoid the sink.

Patrick Hruby is a Page 2 columnist.



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